I’m not good at date nights. My small, mammalian brain tends to associate them with work nights, as most of my face-stuffing tends to be ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Sometimes, though, I pull it off effortlessly, and manage to convince the Bedfellow that I am taking her on a lavish junket, away from the humdrum of suburban Northampton, into the exotic and posh world of the elite. This, unfortunately, was not one of those nights.
Disclosure: I like Foxwoods. I like most casinos. Sorry, that’s not really a disclosure so much as a justification, which I will wholly defend in an ensuing sentence. Disclosure: this meal was comped. We covered gratuity. Back to the casino statement, though- I really do like them. They’re like separate, strange universes with controlled day/night lighting and strange statues. They are beached cruise ships, they are small empires made of indoor smoking, glowing statues, and endless buffets. They operate under tribal law. You can litigate in tribal court!
Red Lantern, the newest restaurant at Foxwoods, hosted us for the evening. It’s an interesting venue, somewhere in between a very, very chill nightclub (which, incidentally, operates downstairs) and a bizarre theme restaurant. There are, indeed, many red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, but thankfully, they weren’t as obtrusive as they appeared. It’s neat as a pin and has eye-catching Asian art and artifacts. When we visited, we were one of three couples dining, but in their defense, it was a Sunday evening and the only people out were the most wild of retirees and confused bachelors. We started our meal with two cocktails and an order of tuna tartare, which I’ve decided (along with the other tartares, of course, I’m not biased toward any particular chopped animal) will be my signature dish.
The tartare was very well-prepared. A far cry from the simplicity of the Lord Jeff, or any I had in Paris, but clever in its own right. It had a bevy of condiments, toppings, and garnishes- radish slices, razor-thin sheets of cucumber underneath, cilantro, sesame seeds, a spicy aioli, and a hefty spoonful of tobiko for good measure. The entire plate was laced in a delicious, semi-sweet soy sauce. And still, the fish shone through- big, tender chunks of raw tuna coated in flavor. It was an impeccable start to our meal.
The sushi selection is well-prepared, but less innovative than I would prefer. I spied the Green Tea Tuna on the gluten-free menu on the website, but was told that it wasn’t available at the restaurant when we inquired. A pity, though our Ronin Roll was tasty. With spicy tuna, cream cheese, avocado, and seared albacore tuna, rare on the inside, it was technically decent, with a fresh, if subdued, flavor and tender bite. It was easily livened up with pickled ginger.
Our entree adventure began with a hearty portion of black sesame and shrimp udon. I was surprised at how massive the portion sizes were, but they’re meant for sharing and are easy to do so, with large bowls and serving spoons so that all can have a taste. It was far too much for us to finish, but was tasty. The udon was somewhat soggy and heavy, but the shrimp were bright and pink. I snacked on those while the Bedfellow ate the rest. We unanimously agreed that it was unfortunately mild for a dish featuring black sesames. A saucy homage to cold sesame noodles would behoove the dish, with a black sesame sauce in addition to the scant garnish.
I should mention that we were enjoying our cocktails amidst the appetizers. I tried a Jade Yuzu, strangely sans yuzu, but replete with Grey Goose Citron, St. Germain, and Thai basil. It was sweet and boozy, with less influence from the basil than the respective floral liqueurs and liquors, but was very tasty. The Bedfellow enjoyed the Saketini, and despite its shared usage of St. Germain, it was clean and crisp, heavily focusing on the sake.
Our largest, and coincidentally, most drastic entree was the roast Peking duck. The large portion would have been downright indulgent for well-prepared duck. But this simply wasn’t up to snuff. On the plus side, it was smoky, and the skin was crisp. It was cooked well, although as you know, Foodette takes her duck quacking, or “I like it rare, please take me there, it makes my pants bust at the seams,” as Madonna sang, maybe. But the skin was very cold and the accompanying pancakes were brittle and sticky, like translucent flour tortillas. The strange differences in temperature and quality made this difficult to enjoy.
Finally, our server generously brought us a plate of the wok-cooked sliced hoisin chicken with coconut-infused squash and rice. He described this as a ‘lighter entree,’ which I found slightly funny as it was as massive and heavy as the noodle dish preceding it. It’s likely meant to share, but is somewhat cumbersome with the thick pieces of chicken and large chunks of vegetable, and the thick sauce was slathered all over the dish. However, what it lacked in presentation it made up for in flavor. The rice was sweet, almost like a Thai sticky rice, and balanced off the savory grilled chicken. The vegetables were crisp and fresh.
Red Lantern is fun, a near-extension of the louder, more cavernous club it perches upon, but is better for appetizers and drinks with friends before an event as opposed to the focus of a visit to Foxwoods. The atmosphere is bold and chill, but the food comes off as timid in comparison. The first half of our meal was delightful, and luckily, the small plate selection is large enough to enjoy as an entire meal. My advice? Come for the sushi, and head out when the music starts pumping downstairs.